Many people assume I’m from London due to my accent and I gave up a long time ago explaining I was actually from Middlesex, the county London sits in. People either hadn’t heard of it or thought it didn’t exist anymore – wrong!
The Kingdom of Middlesex – Middelseaxe, after the area of middle land and the preferred weapon of the Saxons, shown in the Middlesex flag below – was first mentioned in 8th century charters as Provincia Middelseaxeon. It was covered by great swathes of forest, prompting a twelfth century cleric in the employ of Thomas Becket to comment:
The Great Forest extended from Houndsditch in East London that was once a rubbish ditch dug outside the City walls, and covered most of what we know as Middlesex. The twelfth century cleric and administrator in the employ of Thomas Becket, William Fitzstephen, once wrote … ‘Not far off spreads out a vast forest, its copses dense with foliage concealing wild animals – stags, does, boars, and wild bulls’. He also noted the hunting rights within Middlesex for citizens …
– Louise Wyatt, Secret Hayes
The County of Middlesex was established by King Alfred in the late 9th century. Middlesex County Council arrived MUCH later in 1889 and was dissolved in 1965, hence why it is considered Middlesex no longer exists but, as Middlesex’s finest patron Russell Grant notes:
The County of Middlesex has a history that dates back well over a thousand years but people wrongly assume the abolition of a 76 year old County Council meant the end of Middlesex. This is Fake News! Let’s blast the myth! The British Government has confirmed in a plethora of announcements, statements and Early Day Motions, the historic and geographical County of Middlesex is officially recognised and continues to this day unfazed by any abolition to a short-lived County Council.
Areas such as Milwall and Westminster are actually in Middlesex, as is Poplar, once a fishing village in east Middlesex where the sails were made for Henry VIII’s ship, the Henri Grace Dieu. Westminster, originally an area known as Thorney Island, was the area chosen by Edward the Confessor to build his new minster, upstream to a greener, more fertile area than London.
Middlesex Day originated in memory of the Battle of Albuhera, during the Peninsular War on 16 May 1811 where the Middlesex Regiment – then known as 57th Regiment of Foot – were part of a final push and held fast to win the battle. This was despite losing two-thirds of their men and being vastly outnumbered and it is where they earned their nickname, the Die-hards. It is generally thought to be the command given by their seriously wounded commander, Colonel William Inglis, who refused to leave the field and shouted ‘die hard, 57th, die hard!’ But there is some trepidation around this; firstly, his serious wound was the neck and jaw so speech would have been difficult – his order to his men may have been given before receiving his wound. Secondly, some evidence exists of a Captain Ralph Fawcett of the 57th, receiving the similar wounds, lying on the ground with his men and refusing to leave the field. It doesn’t matter really, the Middlesex Regiment showed immense bravery against the odds and are known today as The Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment.
Russell Grant, The Real Counties of Britain. London: Virgin Publishing.
©2020 Louise Wyatt